In the run up to Christmas celebrations, SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY speaks to Delhi’s Selin Thomas and Group, probably the country’s only transgender choir
Breaking barriers can begin with the plucking out of just one brick. Like we raise a wall brick by brick, we know we can also bring it down the same way. If we really want to reach out to what is beyond the wall.
One such plucking of a brick — at least a bold attempt at it, recently happened in the Capital. Even as a frenetic debate was raging at various platforms in response to the Supreme Court judgment on Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code that would affect the LGBT community, a church in Delhi has thrown open its stage for a group of transgender artists to sing songs in praise of the Lord.
The Delhi Diocese of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar thought up a barrier-breaking idea to kick-start its Christmas celebrations this time — to form a transgender choir group in the city, may be the only such entity in the country. So on December 14, a group of eight transgenders shared a public function at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium complex not just with the 100-member choir of the Church but also with that of well-known Usha Uthup.
The group is led by Selin Thomas, a transgender from Jahangirpuri area. Forty-eight-year-old Selin is excited to share the story. “It all happened because of the Bishop of the church, he dared to think differently. In Delhi’s history, it is for the first time that a religious institution has thought of sharing a festive space with us as equals.”
Church officials approached Selin’s dherao or ashram in Jahangirpuri with the idea in mid-November. Selin says, “We immediately liked the idea. Myself, along with another nayak (group head) — Shobha, zeroed in on six transgenders from our groups based on their voice quality.”
Soon, the church began sending a music trainer to the dherao. “We trained for about four weeks before we gave our first performance,” says the Kerala native who came to the city long ago as a 15-year-old.
Father John G. Mathew of the Church explains how things rolled. “As a part of our social work, we have been working with a lot of marginalised community, sex workers, etc. That is how we have access to this community also. They are largely on their own, have minimal contact with the rest of the society because of certain stigmas. We thought of making an attempt to break the taboo, also because of the ritual that when a child is born, transgenders are called to celebrate it. So Christmas is also a time when baby Jesus is born. We approached them with the idea, told them if you do this, our community will be educated, they will realise that you are same like us and they agreed.”
Selin was born in a Christian family but she calls herself a believer of all religions. “We are beyond caste and creed. We believe the world is one community. I believe in Islam, have a Sai Baba statue in my room and a small temple in the courtyard of our dherao. The only reason we went ahead is because we love to sing and we were honoured to have been given the platform to present ourselves as another human being,” says Selin, an “Intermediate pass”.
She feels such platforms would allow transgender people a life of dignity, may be a full-time occupation. “Otherwise, many end up in beggary and prostitution.”
Selin is open to sing songs with her choir group “anywhere, whoever calls us”. She prods you to print her number, “in case there are more people who want us to sing.”
Selin Thomas and Group can be contacted at 011-27642786